September 20, 2020
Minnesota Lynx head into best-of-five series with unfinished business
The Minnesota Lynx are determined to show the Seattle Storm their best in their upcoming best-of-five semifinals series
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Odyssey Sims #1 of the Minnesota Lynx handles the ball against the Seattle Storm on September 6, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo credit: Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images/NBA Content Network
Less than an hour after her team lost 103-88 to the Seattle Storm on Sept. 6, Napheesa Collier was sure Seattle had yet to see the Lynx at their best.
“I think the first game, we were watching film on it, and it was kind of shocking how bad we looked,” Collier said. “I’m sure if we watch some of this game, it’ll be the same. They’re definitely a good team, but we beat ourselves a lot of the time tonight.
“They definitely haven’t seen the best of us.”
Two weeks later, the No. 4-seeded Lynx now have an entire best-of-five semifinals playoff series to show the No. 2-seeded Seattle Storm their best. But of course, it won’t be easy.
The Lynx were a minus-19.5, averaged 77.0 points and shot 40.3% from the floor in their two regular-season games against Seattle who forced 24.0 turnovers per game against Minnesota. On Sept. 6, the Lynx were held to 26 total points in the paint, matching their total number of turnovers committed in the same game.
Seattle’s swarming defense and active offense have been a tall order for any team to handle. And though the Lynx have shown their ability to make in-game adjustments throughout the season, very few of their players have playoff series experience.
But now that Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve and her players have gotten past a thrilling single-elimination game against the Phoenix Mercury, they’re excited for the task at hand.
“It’s fun to get to the point where it’s a series, and I’m really hopeful that the WNBA will take a look at this because when you finish the top four, you should not be in a single elimination game,” Reeve said. “I think there’s too much care for the top two seeds, and I think that’s pretty shortsighted. Can you imagine Phoenix and Minnesota having played a series rather than a single elimination game? I think Connecticut and LA would have been the same thing. We’re missing some exciting opportunities for some really good teams at the top of the league.”
The Lynx have been eliminated from the playoffs in single-elimination games ever since they won their fourth championship in 2017. Sylvia Fowles, 2017’s MVP and Finals MVP, was the only current Lynx player who played for the 2017 title team, and now her availability for the upcoming series against the Storm is questionable.
In 2018, the L.A. Sparks concluded Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen’s last run together, and in 2019, the Storm sent Minnesota home after the Lynx’s starting backcourt combined for one point on 0-for-5 shooting. Now they’ll have at least three attempts to correct their mistakes.
“It’s exciting to be at this part because as a coach, you’re planning,” Reeve said. “It’s a 200-minute series, but you’re focusing on the first 40. But the fun of it is to have a game plan, see what works, see what their answer is to it and each team kind of tweaking what they’re doing. Because whatever you got in the first game, you’re not getting in the second game. So you’ve got to find a new way to get things done either defensively or offensively. That’s the fun of it. That’s the ups and downs of a series. How a win, how that affects you, and how a loss. Just teaching this group I think is just going to be a tremendous experience for them.”
Reeve’s playoff resume speaks for itself. Four championships (just as a head coach), six Finals appearances and a 40-17 record in 11 seasons. But now she’s excited to introduce many of her players to the level of the WNBA playoffs that don’t resemble a win-or-go-home March Madness tournament.
“Teaching them, we’ve talked about everything matters. Something that might have happened in the 30th minute of the first game could affect how the rest of the series goes,” Reeve said. “So this really just teaching them big picture. I could tell that they were very intrigued by that, because this group does not have experience with that other than Syl and Mo in 2015. I think they’re excited about it, and I’m excited to help guide them through it.”
During their time in the bubble, players haven’t had much time to reflect on mistakes made in previous games.
“It’s literally just each game trying to give them something to be successful that night,” Reeve said. “Then it’s rest, then you get back to it.”
That stands for rookie point guard Crystal Dangerfield who’s had to learn on the fly throughout her debut season with few practices and less time to focus on her individual growth instead of studying scouting reports. But with the upcoming best-of-five series, Reeve is ready to add to Dangerfield’s to-do list.
“I was talking with Katie (Smith) earlier today, and I was like, I had a long list for (Dangerfield) in the offseason and I thought, ‘What the hell am I going to wait for the offseason for? Why don’t I tell her now? And let’s see if she can’t evolve,’” Reeve said. “Everything we’ve given her she’s done a great job of. We have a short list. There’s a longer list that we probably can’t get to, but a short list that we’d like her to be for this series.
“She can do more, and I think so much for her has been fighting through the physical. I’ve mentioned along the way this is a player who’s dealt with a lot physically, and I think that in some ways keeps her from really exerting herself in areas that we would like more from. But as I indicated to her, ‘What are you saving yourself for? You’re going to have a long offseason to recover, so let’s get to a couple of these things.’”
Reeve was impressed by Dangerfield and Odyssey Sims’ level of intensity in their single-elimination game, which she believes ultimately earned their team a chance to see what they can do in a best-of-five series. They made life difficult for Phoenix’s guards by jumping passing lanes, picking up players in the backcourt and fighting over screens — all of which will be necessary to slow down Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada.
“We know we have a tough matchup,” Sims said. “Seattle is very hard to guard, but we just have to stay on our defensive concepts, our game plan going into the game today and just see the outcome. Our biggest thing is just to play hard every possession. Can’t take any possessions off. Me in particular, just bring what I normally bring: energy and defense. I get my team going sometimes when it’s needed, so I’m going to just try to carry that over to today’s game.”
Sims applauded Dangerfield’s play and acknowledged there’s a reason she was named the 2020 Rookie of the Year.
“She came in, didn’t really care what nobody said and she was drafted in the second round. She plays her heart out every game,” Sims said. “For us, just play alongside each other, it gives us pace. We run, our offense is a little bit faster, it gives us an opportunity to run a lot more in transition. We’ve kind of been doing that, but we have to do a little bit more of it — especially against Seattle.”
Dangerfield listed Seattle’s commitment to helping the helper when asked what makes the Storm’s defense so difficult to play against.
“If one player gets beat, they’re doing their rotations and they do it early and sometimes discourage teams from doing some things,” Dangerfield said. “I’m just going in with a positive mindset, attack mindset, aggressive mindset and not saving myself. It’s a long series, but we want to take care of Game 1. I think that sets the tone for the rest of the series, so that’s what we have to do today.”
“I’m excited for Crystal for this series. I’m excited for Odyssey in this series,” Reeve said. “I like what they did in that last game, and I think we can get some momentum. I know Seattle is going to make life difficult for Crystal, and I love it for Crystal. I love it for the now and see how she responds to it, and I love it for the bigger picture having to go through these difficult experiences to get to another place perhaps in the coming years.”
But that doesn’t mean the Lynx are considering their upcoming series against the Storm the gravy of the season. They’re not just happy to be here. They have unfinished business.
“This is a competitive group. It’s a group that they certainly understand and have perspective,” Reeve said. “They feel great about accomplishments this season and how we’ve come together to find success. I think in some cases they’re greedy, they know that we played Seattle two games and we were horrendous in a couple situations that just can’t happen.
“This is not a ‘Hey you have nothing to lose.’ That doesn’t work. We have a certain mentality that I will be really disappointed if we don’t come out with that we are in this series to win the darn thing.”
The Lynx and storm are scheduled to tip off at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 20, on ABC.